Fire risk at TV tower site

USA:  Fire risk at TV tower site

Source: The Denver Post, 22 October  2001

Jefferson County’s planning commission rightly took time – two months, in fact – to let citizens voice concerns about proposed television towers atop Eldorado Mountain. The next, and likely final, public hearing is slated for Nov. 7. Eventually, though, the planning board mustrecommend to the county commissioners whether to grant the zoning change needed for the antennas. 
Pinnacle Towers Inc. wants to build three antennas, from 450 to 510 feet high, in northern Jefferson County, just south of Eldorado Canyon State Park. The towers would bring digital television to metro Denver and improve broadcast signals into Boulder. Pinnacle’s plan also calls for a private heliport and a 40,000-gallon diesel fuel tank for backup electrical power. 
Critics have focused on the specious fear that the towers’ radio frequencies would endanger human health. But the real worry, and the true public policy dilemma, involves a familiar hazard that undeniably could threaten human life: wildfire. 
Eldorado Mountain sits in the red zone, the broad swath along the Front Range where human habitation intersects with forests, brush and grasslands. The redzone especially vexes Jeffco, where two of Colorado’s worst, recent wildfires – the Buffalo Creek and Hi Meadows blazes – occurred.
Now Pinnacle wants to plunk 40,000 gallons of fuel and some expensive communications equipment into that red zone. Protecting either from oncoming flames, especially in fires driven by the foothills’ frequent high winds, could unduly burden Jeffco’s volunteer firefighters. Indeed, local firedepartments question whether the existing, primitive access road would let them even get emergency trucks onto Pinnacle’s property.  
Most of Pinnacle’s site is deemed “moderate” hazard, but its western side isconsidered “high” hazard. 
Pinnacle says the diesel tank would be less of a fire hazard than the propane tank already on the property, which provides backup power to the 162-foot radio tower now on the site. Diesel is less volatile than propane, and the new tank would meet modern safety codes, Pinnacle notes. Moreover, Pinnacle plans to store firefighting equipment on site, install a 30,000-gallon water cistern and implement other safety measures. 
Still, the property is zoned agricultural, a designation that would prompt a modest firefighting response. But changing the zoning to industrial, as Pinnacle wants, could in the future require a full-court press from local fire departments. 
Given the risks to fire crews and the huge public costs of combating wild blazes, the county might not want to allow significant industrial, commercial or residential building in high-hazard areas, if current zoning doesn’t already grant the use by right. 
The worries over radio frequency hazards are elusive. But fears about wildfire risks are all too valid.


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